The solar industry is partnering with non-profits and the federal government to help find employment for returning veterans. The industry’s trade arm, the Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA), has a goal of employing 50,000 veterans in solar by 2020.
There is still a way to go. The Solar Foundation’s annual solar jobs report found veterans account for about 9 percent of the nation’s solar workforce, a total of 21,600 workers. Still, this exceeds the estimate of 7 percent total veteran participation in the workforce as a whole.
“Veterans must possess the ability to work as a team to be successful,” said John Janes, a veteran who has written about his experiences in the solar industry. “I found out personally [in the military] that even the smallest jobs are necessary and important for the final product. I discovered as an installer that even the smallest jobs make a huge difference in making the overall job go smoothly.”
SEIA has two active programs designed to bring servicemembers and veterans into the industry. Solar Ready Vets supports six-week training programs for service members on military bases before their discharge. Troops to Solar trains veterans and active duty service members in hands-on solar installation experience. By the end of the program, it will have trained 1,000 veterans for solar jobs.
More support is on the way.
In October, the Solar Energy Technologies Office of the U.S. Department of Energy selected the Solar Foundation to receive a $2 million award to support a solar workforce, including “a groundbreaking effort to support solar industry apprenticeships for hundreds of transitioning military veterans”.
“Many employers in the private sector consider veterans an untapped source of talent,” said Adewale OgunBadejo, the Workforce Development Manager with GRID Alternatives of Greater Los Angeles. “Individuals who have served in the military often bring discipline and organization to their work – and more importantly, they show leadership ability.”
The non-profit GRID Alternatives has hosted a series of “Vets Helping Vets” events. These provide solar systems for low-income veterans. “In November 2018, we’ll be working with a cohort of veterans from Orange County, California,” said Nicholas Boateng, Senior Outreach Coordinator and Veteran Liaison with GRID Alternatives of Greater Los Angeles. “The culmination of their training will be working on a structure that they themselves use: installing solar for their community.”
“Installing solar for another veteran is very rewarding for me,” Janes said. “The veteran home owners have been incredibly grateful, and offered food or any accommodation that any of us might need.”
Janes participated in a GRID Alternatives training program. The training began by familiarizing the veterans with the installation process. They made site visits and learned how systems were designed and installed. Once the academic work was completed the trainees were given classroom and then real-world opportunities to apply what they had learned. This training gave the veterans confidence in the skills they had learned, Janes said.
“A sense of pride comes from my being able to make a positive impact on the world around me,” Janes said. “Other energy fields [e.g., oil or gas] can be controversial and often times harm the environment and human life.”